You're not an economist, so how much of designing was figuring out what the hell Rose and The Atlantic were talking about?
It probably happened in the shower, as a lot of good ideas do.
Sometimes that's the case. This isn't the first economy-related project we've done, but I actually really like that part of the process – I get to learn something. One of the other projects we're working on is a college-level sociology textbook written by Dalton Conley. It's one of the most amazing projects we've been able to work on because we are doing the entire design of the book - front, back, inside – everything, plus an entire suite of hand-drawn animations for every chapter – an amazing collaboration with the author, the publisher and our team. So much fun.
Is it fair to say that one of the reasons you stay pretty small is that you hire freelancers when you need them?
Definitely. It's always worked very well for us. And it's become more accepted by clients in the last few years as well. When I started my practice, I feel like this new model was just starting to emerge. Now, no one has big concerns about it at all. You can be completely transparent about your size, and clients are less freaked out. I think the process is so much more direct and personal when you're working with small firms, and people really love that.
Do you have too much work?
We do say no to projects, yes. But sometimes if a great project comes along and we are already strapped for resources, we just can't say no. We have to figure out a way to make it work. I feel extremely, extremely lucky that we're in the place where we can say no and that we can decide if something is a good fit for us or not.
In the past when I was learning the ropes of how to run this business thing, I think I felt obligated to not let things go. Somebody would present me this opportunity and even if it didn't feel right, I didn't want to say no because I felt like I should be growing the business. But over time, I learned that if you're pouring that much energy and that much heart into what you're doing, you can't do it for the wrong people or the wrong project. It burns you out, doesn't lead to good work, and not only keeps you from doing the things you really care deeply about, but also keeps the client from having someone to work with whose heart is really in the project. It takes a bit of a leap of faith, but I've never been proven wrong. Still, learning to say no was one of the hardest lessons I've learned.
A lot of our work is by referral. The clients that we've been happy working with are so great and the projects have been so great that they multiply and bring people who are like-minded our way. I saw Michael Beirut from Pentagram give a talk once and he said you really have to be careful when picking your clients because bad clients will only breed more bad clients. I really believe that. [Laughs] Our good clients have been breeding and bringing more great clients our way.
Where did you get the name?
[Laughs] Honestly, I don't remember the actual moment where it happened. It probably happened in the shower, as a lot of good ideas do.
Do you have a drawing board in your shower?
No, but for some reason, the bathroom in the morning is the place where I get the most clarity. My first job when I got out of school was at a place called Funny Garbage, which was a digital agency here in New York. Right then, I realized that the name was key. It was memorable, funny and everybody always commented on it. While I was working there, there came a point when I wanted to have a site that showcased the freelance work I was doing at the time with various musicians, designers, and artists. At first, I wanted to have a URL that was my first name or my first and last name. AgnieszkaGasparska.com. Ha! I mean really?! No one in their right mind would ever type that the right way. It would have been Google suicide. Thankfully, Agnieszka.com was not available either, and I figured my first and last name would be too much.
I started thinking about other things, and at some point I just thought, 'What about Kiss Me I'm Polish?' I looked it up and it was available, so I snatched it. I've now trademarked it. [Laughs] And it works. From time to time I wonder if it's too silly or too cute, and honestly there are probably some clients that have hesitated in contacting us because of the name. But at the same time, because of how we approach our work, how much heart and personality we put into our projects, and because we believe in fun, I feel like it's actually a really great client filter. If somebody thinks they are too serious to appreciate it, then they are probably not the right fit for us. We've actually had some very serious, corporate, stuffy clients contact us, and they loved it. It's different. And easy to remember.